Here at 3D Rapid Print, one of the fastest growing 3D Printing companies in the Thames Valley, we like to keep abreast of the latest innovations in 3D printing.

On September 14th 2021, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced that a group of its researchers had developed a new way of 3D printing mechanisms that detect how force is being applied to an object. MIT proclaimed that this would enable devices like joysticks and switches to be 3D printed as a single piece of material. To do this, the team integrated electrodes into structures made from metamaterials and created 3D editing software designed to help users build these devices. (The word metamaterial can be defined as “A usually artificial material that exhibits special properties not normally found in nature.”)

The team created a metamaterial whose structure consisted of a repeating pattern of flexible cells, with 2 opposing walls made from conductive filament and 2 walls made from nonconductive filament. These cells were named conductive shear cells, with the conducting walls functioning as electrodes. When force is applied to a metamaterial object, some of the flexible, interior cells stretch or compress; this enables changes in the distance and overlapping area between the opposing electrodes to be used to calculate the magnitude and direction of the applied forces, as well as the angle of rotation and acceleration.

To demonstrate their concept, the researchers created a metamaterial joystick with 4 conductive shear cells embedded around the base of its handle in each direction, i.e. up, down, left and right, such that its movements could control a Pac-Man game. They also created a music controller designed to conform to the geometry of the user’s hand, such that its inputs would be sent to a digital synthesizer. MIT argued that the team’s method could enable the prototyping of custom-made joystick handles for people with limited grip strength in certain directions by making the handle a unique shape and size. In the case of the music controller, MIT argued that the team’s method could enable the prototyping of flexible input devices for a computer like squeezable volume controllers and bendable styluses.

Named MetaSense, the program that the researchers developed enables users to manually integrate sensing into a metamaterial design or let the software optimally place the conductive shear cells automatically. For further work, the team hopes to improve MetaSense to enable more complex simulations. They also hope to create mechanisms with many more conductive shear cells, for example by embedding thousands of them within a mechanism to enable high-resolution, real-time visualizations of how a user is interacting with an object.

3D printing is an amazing tool. It can grow your small business or start a mini revolution in an industry. Explore what it can do for you when you contact us today.

Disclaimer: Featured image of “Philippe Mercier – The Sense of Touch – Google Art Project” is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art. The author of the work of art itself died in 1760, ergo it is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or fewer.